As many of us are familiar with the events of Joseph's life and the situation with his brethren, I will just recap it here, but would encourage you to reread it to refresh your minds. Jacob married two sisters, and between them and their concubines had a total of twelve sons. He had two sons by his favourite wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. In Genesis chapter 37, we learn that Joseph has become the favoured son of Jacob, because of being the elder of the two sons by his favourite wife - especially considering that his wife was no longer living. There certainly was a special place in his heart for those two sons - out of all twelve of his male children. Jacob sends Joseph out to check on the ten older brothers. Because of their jealousy toward him, they plot to kill him when they see him coming, but, as it turns out, instead decide to sell him into slavery to Egypt.
So seventeen year old Joseph is separated from his family by his cruel brothers, and eventually spends the next thirteen years both in slavery and partly in prison as the events of his life unfolded. When he was thirty, Pharaoh had a dream which only Joseph (through wisdom given by God) could interpret. God used Joseph to save the nation of Egypt from the seven year famine that was to come by storing up grain during the seven years of plenty. Two years into the seven years of famine, Joseph sees his brethren again for the first time in twenty-two years. Joseph is now thirty-nine years old. He wonders have they changed, or are they still as evil and selfish as they were all those years before? He devises a test to determine whether his brethren have changed at all - without revealing himself or his true intentions to them. This test and the events surrounding the famine are recorded for us in Genesis chapters 41-44.
He accuses them of being spies, sent out to spy out the land of Egypt. Of course they protest this accusation. He throws them into prison and overhears them (without their knowledge, as they think he could not speak their language) discuss their regrets of selling their brother years before and how they now felt it was God's payback for their evil deed (see 42:21-23). He agrees to hold Simeon in prison and let the other nine brothers go on the condition that they prove their testimony about their family by bringing back their youngest brother, Benjamin. They go back to the land of Canaan, where Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go - believing now that he had also lost Simeon, and was in danger of losing his youngest son by Rachel also, as he had lost Joseph years before.
But the famine progresses and eventually Jacob and his family are in dire need of more food. His son, Judah, pleads with him to let Benjamin go with them, as that is the only way that the governor of Egypt (Joseph, who had still not revealed himself) had agreed to sell them any more food.
Genesis 43:8-9 And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:
Here Judah gives his word to be surety for Benjamin, and Jacob finally agrees to his request.
Barnes, in his commentary, defines "surety" as "a bondsman; one who pledges his name, property, or influence, that a certain thing shall be done. When a contract is made, a debt contracted, or a note given, a friend often becomes the security in the case, and is himself responsible if the terms of the contract are not complied with."
Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines this word as "In law, one that is bound with and for another; one who enters into a bond or recognizance to answer for another's appearance in court, or for his payment of a debt or for the performance of some act, and who, in case of the principal debtor's failure, is compellable to pay the debt or damages; a bondsman; a bail."
Webster's also defines bondsman as "A surety; one who is bound, or who gives security, for another."
We are familiar with the idea of a security deposit. This is money taken as a pledge or security, money that guarantees payment if anything bad happens to the property being pledged for. For example, hotel and apartment managers will often take money for security in case the renter defaults on their rent or damages the room - this money is used instead to cover the expenses of the damaged room or to pay what the renter refused or neglected to pay so that the manager is not left footing the bill.
In a similar way, Judah pledged himself to be the surety, the security, the bondsman - the person who will bear the responsibility and cost - if Benjamin did not come home safely. He gave his word, stating that he would bear full responsibility if anything happened to Benjamin along the way.
1. Judah became the surety for his brother Benjamin - giving his word to bring him safely home again to his father.
As the story progresses, the ten brothers make their way back to Egypt and seem to be well-received by the governor. Joseph is overwhelmed to see his younger brother again. Benjamin was very probably only a few years younger than Joseph himself**, and their relationship was no doubt very close - as these two brothers were from the same mother; they not only shared the same family ties but the same grief, as Rachel their mother died giving birth to Benjamin. But this relationship was torn apart violently when Joseph was sold into slavery.
Joseph was not finished with his test yet though. He knew their consciences were awakened by the events of their last visit - he knew they regretted selling him into slavery and felt that God was punishing them through what had happened to them - but he wanted to see if they had changed. Were they still selfish and bitter, filled with envy and hatred, or had they learned to love one another? His plan unfolds.
Joseph gets his steward to hide a silver cup within Benjamin's sack, and lets the brothers leave. Then he follows after the men, and accuses one of their party of stealing the governor's cup. In their distress, the brothers make a rash statement which the steward modifies:
Genesis 44:8-10 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks' mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord's house silver or gold? With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord's bondmen. And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
The governor doesn't want to kill anyone, but he demands that only the thief become his slave instead. The rest of the brothers can go free. Then the silver cup is found in Benjamin's sack, and the brothers are distraught. The steward leads them back to Joseph. Once there, Judah pleads with the governor, explains their situation, the grief this loss (of Benjamin) will cause to their father - proving that now this family was willing to stand up for and consider one another. Here is part of Judah's impassioned pleas to Joseph:
Genesis 44:31-33 It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
Here we see three more things Judah, as Benjamin's surety, promised to do in addition to bringing his brother safely home to his father, he also pledged to:
2. Take his place.
3. Bear his due punishment (in this case, imprisonment or slavery).
4. Endure the separation from his father, instead of his brother being separated. Judah pleaded with the governor to let him stay as a slave instead of Benjamin, so that Benjamin would not have to be separated from his father. Judah would take his place, face his punishment, bear the separation for him instead - so that Benjamin could return safely home to his father. As his brother's surety, he gave his word to do these things and bear the cost in his place.
After this test, when Joseph sees that the hearts of his brothers have truly changed and that they were repentant of their past treatment toward him, he reveals himself to them. Then makes arrangements to bring his whole family safely to Egypt, where they will be plentifully provided for during the rest of the years of famine.
What impressed me most about the story of Judah and Benjamin was how Judah's pledge of surety for his brother actually pictures Jesus Christ's pledge of surety to all believers:
Hebrews 7:22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
It interesting to note that Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah, descended from the line of Judah. Just as Judah was the surety for his brother, even so Jesus is the Surety for His spiritual brethren. When a sinner repents of their sins and turns to the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, trusting in His shed blood and finished work upon the cross of Calvary, they are adopted into the family of God - becoming a child of the Heavenly Father AND one of Christ's brethren.
As the believer's Surety, Jesus promises to:
Take his place and bear his due punishment. In fact, that is what He has already done for us when He died upon the cross for our sins. He already took the punishment that we deserved for our sins. His physical resurrection after three literal days and nights in the grave was proof positive that the complete penalty had been paid and was satisfactory to God the Father.
"Judah was willing to take Benjamin's place and separate himself from his father, but Jesus actually took our place and died for us on the cross, crying, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matt. 27:46). He is our Surety and He cannot fail." (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary - Pentateuch. Editor's Note: Scripture reference changed to the KJV.) Jesus Christ not only bore the due punishment for our sins when He died on the cross in our place, He also bore the separation from God the Father that our sins deserved - so that all those who place their faith in Him would never have to endure that separation eternally or even temporarily. He has promised never to leave us, nor forsake us. (See Matthew 28:20 and Hebrews 13:5)
Just as Benjamin's surety (Judah) pledged to bring him home safely again - despite whatever trials and tests may befall him on the way - even so, Jesus Christ, our great Surety, pledges to bring each of His brethren home safely to their Heavenly Father. What a wonderful confirmation of the doctrine of eternal security! Jesus won't fail this promise - His reputation is at stake! He has already taken full responsibility for all those that personally place their faith in Him, and He will not fail to keep His word to us! He saves to the uttermost - to the furthest extent, including bringing us safely home to Heaven, to dwell in His presence in the Father's house.
Hebrews 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
Praise the Lord Jesus Christ for being the sinner's Surety!
**(For consideration on Benjamin's age when separated from Joseph, see Genesis 45:12-14 and 46:21: Joseph was seventeen when sold into slavery, and Benjamin still remembered his brother; though separated for 22 years, Benjamin had already fathered ten sons by this point in time. If he was just a toddler when this separation occurred then he would not have been able to remember his brother after all those years, nor would he have been old enough to have had ten sons by one wife at this point in time. A careful study of the number of Jacob's family that went with him to dwell in the land of Egypt shows that each son of Jacob only had one wife, not multiple wives. Without getting too technical here, there were nine of his sons' wives that accompanied Jacob and his children into Egypt. Judah's wife had already died, and he did not marry Tamar, nor did she go with them into Egypt. Joseph married in Egypt, so that leaves nine of the other ten brothers with living wives by the time they moved to Egypt. See Genesis 46:26 and Acts 7:14 - 66 descendants of Jacob going into Egypt, plus the nine wives equals 75 altogether. Exodus 1:5 does not contradict these other passages, but gives a little more information: the number in Genesis - 66 from his loins - plus Jacob himself, Joseph and his two children - who were already in Egypt - equals 70.)
For more studies in Genesis (with Genesis as the springboard):